By Fr Desmond de Sousa CSsR
Let me begin my presentation on a very personal note. I was ordained on September 24, 1966. As a newly ordained, young priest my imagination was fired by the life story of Camilo Torres, a priest from Columbia.
It was said that while celebrating the Eucharist , he came to the Our Father and he stopped. He took off his vestments and laid them on the altar and explained to the people, that he could not say the Our Father and ask God to give us daily bread, unless he himself was ready to share his daily bread with his people. So he was laying down his priesthood, in order to work so that every person in Columbia gets bread and does not have to go hungry. Then he would pick up his priesthood again and celebrate the victory that God has won through them.
He wrote, “I have taken off my cassock in order to be a truer priest” He joined the guerrillas fighting for justice in the hills. He truly became a “campanero”, a companion who breaks bread with the poor people on a pilgrimage towards a new heaven and new earth in Columbia. He wrote, “I have put aside the privileges and duties of the clergy, but I have not stopped being a priest. I think I have given myself to the revolution out of love for my neighbor. I have stopped offering Mass to live out the love for my neighbor in the temporal, economic and social orders. When my brother no longer has anything against me and when the revolution has been completed then I will offer mass again, if God so wills it. I believe that in this way I am following Christ’s injunction ‘If you bring your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering on the altar, go and be reconciled first with your brother and then return and offer your gift (Mt 5:23-4)”
On February 15, 1966, just over 7 months before my ordination, he was shot dead by the government forces. I’ve often felt over these years that I’m still alive because I have not taken the Eucharist and the ‘Our Father’ as seriously as Camilo Torres. He was just 37 years old.
In 1959, the year I finished my novitiate as a Redemptorist, a 14-year-old Bolivian, Nestor Paz entered the minor seminary. In 1962, while I studying philosophy, he joined the Redemptorist novitiate in Cordoba, Argentina. In 1966, the year I was ordained he left the seminary and two years later was married. In July17, 1970, he left his wife, his family and professional career to join the guerrillas against one of the most repressive governments in Latin America. Surrounded by government troops, he shared his meager food with his companions and on October 8, 1970 he died of starvation a day before his 25th birthday. “My Life for my Friends”, his campaign diary, revealed his dedication to the revolutionary cause through suffering unto death.
This kind of prophetic spirituality goes back to Bartolomeo de las Casas, a Spanish Dominican missionary in Latin America, (1474-1566, bishop of Chiapas, Guatemala, from 1544)) who took a radically anti-colonial interpretation of the Eucharist early on in the colonial history. The text which inspired his radical anti-colonial critique was:
“If one sacrifices ill-gotten goods, the offering is blemished; the gifts of the lawless are not acceptable.
The Most High is not pleased with the offerings of the ungodly, nor for a multitude of sacrifices does he forgive sins.
Like one who kills a son before his father’s eyes, is the person who offers a sacrifice from the property of the poor.
The bread of the needy is the life of the poor; whoever deprives them of it is a murderer.
To take away a neighbor’s living is to commit murder;
To deprive an employee of wages is to shed blood.
When one builds and another tears down, what do they gain but hard work?
When one prays and another curses, to whose voice will the Lord listen?
If one washes after touching a corpse, and touches it again, what has been gained by washing?
So if one fasts for his sins and goes again and does the same things, who will listen to his prayer? And what has he gained by humbling himself
(Sirach Chapter 34, vs. 21-31)
The same history was re-enacted in the struggle in El Salvador, where Archbishop Romero was murdered during the celebration of the Eucharist for his valiant stand against the military junta on March 24, 1980. He was a radical witness to the true meaning of the Eucharist.
In Sri Lanka sometime during the 1980s, Fr Michael Rodrigo OMI, who had been deeply involved in the struggle for justice in his island nation, had just finished celebrating the Eucharist with a group of nuns, when an unknown assassin shot him dead at the altar.
Over the last 43 years as a priest based both in India and the Phillipines. I have been confronted by the lives and death of priests like Nuno Valerio SVD (Phillipines) and nuns like Sr Rani Maria in India, dragged out of a public transport and savagely stabbed to death in front of stunned people on the main road. Each of them have re-lived the “dangerous memory” of Jesus Christ whose life, death and Resurrection is our inspiration like it was for them. If we are still alive today, is it because we are not living the Eucharist as a “dangerous memory” of the Lord Jesus we profess to follow in our life unto our death?
The mystery we celebrate in the Eucharist is the mystery we are called to live
In the Synoptic Gospels the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper is followed by the Lord Jesus’ admonition, “Do this in memory of me.” This does not mean that we recall some pious memory of long ago. It means that we continue the “dangerous memory” of Jesus of Nazareth, who loved his friends so much that he laid down his life for them (Jn 15:12-17).
In St John’s Gospel, the last of the written gospels (about 60-70 years after the death of Christ), there is no mention of the actual institution of the Eucharist like in the other three Gospels and St Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians. The Eucharist, in John’s Gospel, is connected with the memory of the feeding miracle of Jesus, the multiplication of the loaves and the emphasis on food sharing in the desert. John’s Last Supper account has only the washing of the feet. It would seem that by the time the Gospel of John was written, the ritual of “This is my Body…Blood” has become common, routine, but the living out of the ritual in self-sacrificing service still needed to be highlighted. Jesus saying “Abide with me, and I in you,”(Jn 15:4) means that in the Eucharist we enter into communion (common union) with Christ and with one another (1Cor.10:17). Jesus says to the disciples of John the Baptist, “Go and tell John what you hear and see (Mt 11:3-5)
Unfortunately in Catholic Church for various historical reasons especially around the Reformation (16th century), the ritual has been mystified and “sacralized” by the miracle of “transubstantiation,” while the practice of living out the challenge of the
“dangerous memory” of Jesus Christ in daily life has become diluted to the extent of becoming optional.
God first became a human person, before becoming present in the Eucharistic species. Therefore the document Gaudium et Spes can say, “For by his Incarnation the Son of God has in a certain way united himself with each person….This sharing in Christ’s Resurrection holds true not only for Christians but for all persons of good will in whose hearts grace is active invisibly…we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being partners in the Paschal mystery in a way known only to God.”(n.22)
Eucharistic spirituality today emphasizes Christ’s “presence” in the host as more important than the “presence” in human persons. It would seem that according to the practice of our skewed Eucharistic spirituality, God first became a host before becoming a human person in Jesus of Nazareth!
This highly individualistic spirituality of the Eucharist is very sensitive to the insult to God in the host, but increasingly insensitive to the insult to God in the degradation of human persons and the “wounds” created in human persons by the “sinful structures” of society.
Spiritual counseling and spiritual direction is gradually raising awareness of the “wounds” human persons carry from the different stages of their growth and development. But there is need for much greater awareness of the ‘sinful structures” that cause these “wounds” in countless human persons from the womb to the tomb – class, caste, gender, ethnic, religious and other systemic discriminations and injustices that are endemic in the social system itself.
In his Apostolic Letter ‘Stay with us Lord’ (Lk 24:29), Pope John Paul II wrote, “over this universal longing [for life], threatening shadows gather: the shadow of a culture that denies respect for life in each of its phases; the shadow of an indifference that condemns so many people to a fate of hunger and underdevelopment; the shadow of a scientific quest that at times is at the service of egoism of the most powerful.”
The Gospel account (Lk 24:13-31), highlights the fundamental fact that the two disciples fail to recognize the Risen Lord on the road of life, but only recognize him in the ‘breaking of the bread.’ We too recognize the Risen Lord with the eyes of faith in the Eucharistic species, but fail to recognize him on the road of life. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus immediately became witnesses to what they had experienced.
As the Risen Lord came to meet the two disciples, or Zacchaeus on the road of life before they came to meet him, he comes to meet us in the persons, events and daily happenings of life, and we most often fail to recognize him. Our ‘eyes of our faith’ are clouded with a certain darkness when the Risen Lord comes to meet us in the helpless, battered, poor women, the disheveled alcoholics and drunkards, the abused children etc.
Finally in each Eucharist we celebrate the victory that Christ has won over the power of sin (Satan=selfishness) in our own lives, and the power of the structures of sin (called Mammon= the cluster of values that come from money – power, prestige, status that are anti Gospel values) in the world. (Jn 16:33; I Jn 5:3-5). Therefore in each Eucharist we are assured that the new heaven and new earth as “a new order of grace” is actually building up in the arteries of history of this world and will come to fulfillment at the end of time. (Rev.21: 1-2). This new heaven, new earth (new society) will not be something we achieve, but something we receive from God. During our life time we have the privilege to contributing and participating in it. This is the assurance we receive in the Eucharist.
It is clear, that we need a renewed, a radical interpretation of Eucharistic spirituality today, if we want to do justice to the radical option, which Jesus took in his own life. The Eucharist is the summit of the Life and Mission of the Church because we all are supposed to bear testimony as witnesses of what we have actually experienced with our eyes and ears (1Jn 1: 1-3). St Paul says exactly the same thing in the institution narrative (1Cor.11: 26). Only then will the Eucharist become the “Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church”
We need the religious symbolism of the Eucharist to infuse hope of transformation of the dysfunctional social structures that force people to migrate
The socio-economic and political significance of the Eucharist in the present situation of globalization is of enormous significance as a crucial “sinful structure” that “wounds” the life of millions today. Eucharistic spirituality has also to highlight the feminist interpretation of exploitation of the human body, as a symbol of human suffering and the need for redemption. It needs to be connected also with an ecological perspective.
The overall global-local context today is that of an apocalyptic struggle for food security and land and the need to overcome grisly global violence – like war and terrorism – that provokes it. The global-local flashpoints over land in Palestine and Kashmir are fragile tinder-boxes ready to erupt at any time.
Feminist interpretations are of great relevance here. The point is that men are incomplete humanity as long as violence rules the world. The Incarnation cannot be conceptualized without taking into account women’s bodies: abused, bleeding, polluting, sexually active, life giving, nurturing, and widely advertised, venerated in motherhood as well as feared, glorious as well as wretched. This female reality is normally banned from the Eucharist when it comes to understanding “the body”.
It was the reality of child bearing and child rearing while being a full time faculty member, which triggered Dr. Gabriele Dietrich to express her anger and despair in this poem of which I choose some extracts relevant to my topic.
The Blood of a Woman Hiroshima Day
I am a woman
and my blood
Who are you
to deny life
to the life givers?
I am a woman
and the blood
of my abortions
is crying out
I had to kill
because of you
who deny work to me
so that I cannot feed it.
I had to kill my child
because I am unmarried
and you would harass me
if I defy
I am a woman
and the blood
of being raped
is crying out.
This is how you keep
your power intact,
how you make me tremble
when I go out at night.
This is how you keep
me in place
in my house where
you rape me again,
I am not taking this
I am sick of you priests
who have never bled
and yet say:
This is my body
given up for you
and my blood
shed for you
has been shed
I am a woman
and my blood
We are millions
and strong together.
You better hear us
or you may be doomed.
She concludes, “I think it is self evident that the understanding of a woman’s physical-ness and the spirituality arising out of this physical existence needs to inform our understanding of “full humanity”. Obviously, the Eucharist in this day and age can only have full meaning if it commemorates and expresses such crucial experiences. The question is how this can be done effectively and creatively.”
Migration and the history of salvation
In the Bible the weakest of the weak are ‘the orphan, the widow and the migrant (stranger, foreigner)’. The feminist perspective highlights the feminization of migration, which today seriously affects masses of women and their children through forced migration and illicit trafficking.
The Vatican Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People issued a monumental pastoral letter entitled “The love of Christ towards migrants” (2004) from which I quote.
“In migrants, the Church has always contemplated the image of Christ who said, “I was a stranger and you made me welcome.” (Mt 25:35). Born away from home and coming from another land (Lk 2:4-7), “he came to dwell among us” (Jn 1:11,14) and spent his public life on the move, going through towns and villages (Lk 13:22; Mt 9:35). So Christians are followers of a man on the move “who has nowhere to lay his head. (Mt 8:20; Lk 9:58)
In the same way Mary, the Mother of Jesus, can be equally well contemplated as a living symbol of the woman migrant. She gave birth to her Son away from home (Lk2:1-7) and was compelled to flee to Egypt (Mt 2:13-14). Popular devotion is right to consider Mary as the Madonna of the Way.” (n..15)
“In the foreigner, a Christian sees not simply a neighbor, but the face of Christ Himself, who was born in a manger and fled into Egypt, where he was a foreigner, summing up and repeating in his own life the basic experience of His people. Israel traced its origins back to Abraham, who in obedience to god’s call left his home and went to a foreign land, taking with him the divine Promise that he would become the father of a great nation (Gen12:1-2). Jacob, a wandering Aramaen, went down into Egypt with a small household and lived there as an alien. But there he became a nation, great, strong and numerous. (Dt 26:5). After its long servitude in Egypt, Israel received its solemn investiture as the People of God during its forty year Exodus through the desert. The hard test of migration and deportation is therefore fundamental to the story of the chosen people in view of the salvation of all people: Israel knew the return from exile (Is42:6-7); 49:5). With these memories it could take new heart in its trust in God, even in the darkest moments of its history. (Ps 105:12-15; Ps 106:45-47). With regard to the foreigner living in the country, the Law enjoins the same commandment on Israel as applies to the children of your people (Lv 19:18), that is, You must ..love him as yourself (Lv 19:34).” (n. 14-15)
Relevance of the Eucharist to migrants today
The vast globalization process underway around the world brings a need for mobility. It also induces many young people to emigrate and live far from their families and their countries. In fact, today’s economic and political interdependence has shown that international migrations have become a structural component of modern societies: temporary and permanent migrant workers, refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons, trafficked women and men, multinational corporations transferred personnel.
Estimates now give more than 200 million persons in the world living and working in countries different than the one in which they were born or were citizens and the 90 million workers among them are almost three percent of the 3 billion strong labor force. The numbers, in a way, are the tip of the iceberg revealing the complexity of a phenomenon that affects countries of origin, transit and destination, laws and administrative regulations, cultural, religious and social modalities of coexistence.
New categories emerge like internal and cross-borders’ displaced people forced to move by the degradation of the environment, certain types of development projects and climate change. The social teaching of the Catholic Church, and in fact that of all religious traditions, looks at migrants as human beings in the first place and then as citizens or guests, or as economic and cultural agents.
The Church looks with very particular attention at the world of migrants. Two important dimensions of contemporary migrations are not adequately discussed and paid attention to in the formulation of policies: the victims of migration flows and the priority that persons have over the economy. The whole system of protection and of human rights is relegated to a secondary supporting role instead of serving as it was intended, as an assurance that the dignity of all human persons must take precedence.
Among the young people, there are also girls who fall victim more easily to exploitation, moral forms of blackmail, and even abuses of all kinds. What can we say, then, about the adolescents, the unaccompanied minors that make up a category at risk among those who ask for asylum? These boys and girls often end up on the street abandoned to themselves and prey to unscrupulous exploiters who often transform them into the object of physical, moral and sexual violence.
For the young migrants, the problems of the so-called “difficulty of dual belonging” seem to be felt in a particular way: on the one hand, they feel a strong need to not lose their culture of origin, while on the other, the understandable desire emerges in them to be inserted organically into the society that receives them, but without this implying a complete assimilation and the resulting loss of their ancestral traditions.
The Vatican document on the “Love of Christ towards migrants” challenges the local Church to make its Eucharistic liturgy inspire the local community towards the pastoral care of migrants.
“The ecclesiological foundation of the pastoral care of migrants will also help give shape to a liturgy that is more sensitive to the historical and anthropological aspects of migration, so that the liturgical celebrations become a living expression of the communities of believers who here walk here and now on the ways of salvation
This raises the question of the relation of liturgy with the character, tradition and genius of different cultural groups and how to respond to the particular social and cultural situation of such groups by pastoral care that shuld consider their specific liturgical formation and ways of making liturgy more lively and also promote the wider participation of the faithful in the particular Church” (n.44)
It is of great importance that the revolutionary implications of the Eucharist are better understood in today’s situation. This is a challenge to our faith and our creativity. In a way, the Eucharist implies an integration of economic rights of migrants and the political human rights of the local population, which in our present day history have always been polarized against each other. Like the struggle of the workers for human rights against the greed of their employers, the struggle of migrants for human rights against the chauvinism of the local population, will claim many innocent lives. The revolutionary implications of the Eucharist are the assurance that their struggle will meet with victory and their lives will not be lost in vain.
I would like to conclude with a song to the numerous young migrants, who along with Camilo Torres, Nestor Paz, Oscar Romero, Michael Rodrigo, Rani Maria, lost their lives struggling to earn a living for their families. It is a song that moved me deeply the first time I heard it. May they all share in the paschal mystery of Christ’s Death and Resurrection that we celebrate in the Eucharist.
GONE TOO SOON
Like a comet blazing ‘cross the evening sky
Gone too soon
Like a rainbow fading in the twinkling of an eye
Gone too soon
Shiny and sparkly and splendidly bright
Here one day, gone one night
Like the loss of sunlight on a cloudy afternoon
Gone too soon
Like a castle built upon a sandy beach
Gone too soon
Like a perfect flower that is just beyond your reach
Gone too soon
Born to amuse, to inspire, to delight
Here one day, gone one night
Like a sunset dying with the rising of the moon
Gone too soon. (2x)
<EUCHARIST AND COMMUNITY BEYOND ALL BORDERS>, Seoul:WTI 2009